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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Programming is not just for Programmers - Guest Post

One of the big elephants (and there are lots) in education is the misuse of technology. We can do so much better. Take for instance the role of creativity. There is a general consensus that creating is a good thing for kids. From Sir Ken Robinson to Yong Zhao, it seems everyone thinks getting our kids and country to be more creative will do wonders. I agree and yet, I think we are still setting the bar way too low when it comes to creating with technology.

Like most people, I enjoy uploading some images, choosing a song, and letting Animoto “create” a video for me. But lets not pretend I am creating anything. Animoto is the creator. And yet, educators (myself included) have convinced ourselves that this is the type of creativity which will get our students thinking at a higher level. We can do so much better.

Now, take Scratch, a free programming platform from MIT. In the “old days” programming was viewed by many as a nerdy domain, where few people could even comprehend what code (if they cared enough to inquire) was. I was one of the these people. To me coding was as Greek as well....Greek. But alas...I have finally seen the light with Scratch.

Scratch gets kids to think. And that is after all, what we want in school. Here are some quotes which happen regularly in my Scratch class:
  • One student to another- “can you help me with this variable?” 
  • Another wonders aloud, “are my coordinates right?” 
  • A student asks the teacher “can I work on my project at home?” 
  • A student stays behind after dismissal, saying “he just needs to fix one thing” 
My Superintendent does a great job of asking all of us to focus on “minds on teaching.” This is what Scratch does. Kids are working with their “minds on” and creating stories, games, and animations. Take a look at this example from two gr 4 students at my school.

Scratch Project

What type of thinking was involved in this project? Critical thinking, creativity, systems thinking, planning and (get ready for this.....) heavy doses of failing. Failing is a regular part of Scratch, but kids quickly think of how they can learn from their failures. Who doesn’t like to hear that?

But wait... isn't programming for future programmers? I once thought this his too. But Mitch Resnick, creator of the Scratch program, reminded me that when we teach students to write we don’t expect them to become professional authors. Scratch isn't for future programmers. Lets get kids thinking and creating with Scratch and worry about their jobs later.

Rob Ackerman is the principal of the Lane Elementary School in Bedford, MA. Twitter: @Akee123

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